Kansas University's soccer team will return to its new home field at Rock Chalk Park — just not anytime soon.
After evaluating field conditions Tuesday, KU officials announced the Jayhawks will look to resume playing games at the recently unveiled stadium no later than the team's Big 12 home opener against Oklahoma State, on Oct. 3.
Both of KU’s games this coming weekend — Friday versus UT-San Antonio and Sunday against Wake Forest — will be played at the team's former home field, at Jayhawk Soccer Complex.
KU likely will remain there for the rest of its home non-conference schedule, which includes three other home dates.
“The team was very excited to open the season last Friday in our beautiful new home at Rock Chalk Park,” Kansas coach Mark Francis said in a press release. “But our biggest concerns are the safety of the players and the long-term health of the pitch. We’re fortunate that we have such a beautiful field to use in the interim.”
Last week, at KU's fall sports media day, Francis talked up the atmosphere and amenities of Rock Chalk Park, calling it a "major-league" stadium for the fans and players to experience, compared to the "minor-league" facility they were used to at Jayhawk Soccer Complex.
But with divots, potholes, an abundance of sand along some of the edges of the field and several areas with little to no turf growth at Rock Chalk Park, KU coaches and administrators agreed after the season-opener the new field was neither a safe nor ideal option for athletes. So the Jayhawks' Sunday game against SMU was played at Jayhawk Soccer Complex.
"We were able to move the ball way easier on this surface and play more of our game, I think, than we could on Friday," Francis said after KU improved to 2-0 by winning at the old field.
KU officials said the poor field conditions at Rock Chalk Park were attributed to an absence of weather conditions that facilitate the best environment for Bermuda turf growth. When weighing field installation options over a year ago with turf experts, it was determined the best option for the long-term wellness of the field would be to plant Bermuda grass seedlings instead of sodding the field. This decision was made with the knowledge that young Bermuda grass would thrive during a normally hot Kansas summer.
However, prior to last week, the average high temperature in July and August this year was just over 87 degrees — much cooler than the 91-degree average high for this area during those months. Despite numerous efforts to facilitate faster growth, the unusual weather patterns left the surface behind schedule and unfit for play when KU's season began.
Following an inspection of the field Tuesday with turf experts, officials believe that the early-October target date is the best option to expect to have the surface game-ready.
If the playing surface at Rock Chalk Park is deemed ready for play in the weeks prior to the Oct. 3 game, the team could return to its new home ahead of schedule. The KU athletics department will make an announcement if any of KU’s remaining non-conference home games will be played at Rock Chalk Park.
The Jayhawks’ “Party at the Park” celebration, originally scheduled for this Sunday, will be postponed and slotted for the team’s home conference opener on Oct. 3.
Additionally, start times have been changed for the Jayhawks’ matches on Friday against UT-San Antonio and Sept. 12 against Cal State Northridge. Both matches will kick off two hours earlier, at 5 p.m., because there are no lights at the old field.
Ticket prices for KU’s non-conference matches at Jayhawk Soccer Complex will be $8 for adults, $5 for youth (17 and under) and free for children 5 and younger. The $5 promotional ticket price for this Sunday’s match against Wake Forest will still be honored.